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Virgin Atlantic pilot to boldly go where no Scot has gone before
But for David Mackay, who was 12 years old when he watched Neil Armstrong make history on television, the fantasy will soon become reality.
As chief pilot of Virgin Atlantic’s ambitious space tourism project, he will not only be at the helm of the first commercial flights into sub-orbital space, but he will be helping make the wishes of hundreds like him come true.
The 55-year-old father-of-two said: “It is a big challenge, but I am living the dream. I haveâ€¨always been fascinated by space flight, so am thrilled to bits.â€¨I watched the moon landing as a boy and I thought that was the most exciting thing ever, going into space, orbiting earth and exploring other planets. That looked fantastic.”
Brought up in Helmsdale, Sutherland, he regularly watched the low-flying antics of jet pilots on training exercises from nearby RAF bases.
After graduating in aeronautical engineering at the University of Glasgow, Mr Mackay joined the RAF in 1979.
After 16 years, half of which was spent as a test pilot flying Harriers, and facing the prospect of a desk job, he left and joined Virgin Atlantic to become a Boeing 747 captain.
He said: “I still had a hankering for flying, but didn’t think space travel was ever going to be reality.”
He became involved in the Virgin Galactic project soon after its inception in 2004, having become involved in Virgin’s project to fly Steve Fossett non-stop around the world. He also flew the SpaceShipOne simulator.
In 2009, he joined the team full-time as its test pilot, and has just become its chief pilot.
He said: “I thought any chance I had of space travel would be military or government-controlled. But after turning 30, I never thought I would ever live the dream, and especially as part of a commercial operation. It isâ€¨extremely exciting.”
Mr Mackay is also a display pilot on historic aircraft, flying more than 100 different types of aircraft since 1989 including the world’s oldest original flying aircraft, a 1909 Bleriot.
However, he now finds himself chief pilot of the mostâ€¨advanced aircraft in the world, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo, flying private-paying customers – who pay $200,000 (£130,000) each – into space.
He said: “I’ve been lucky enough to have flown some very interesting aircraft in the past, but SpaceShipTwo is far and away the most exciting of them all.
“For Virgin Galactic’s customers, it is transportation to the most amazing experience of their lives. I very much look forward to sending some Scots into space.”
Two Scots are among the 500-plus people to have paid deposits for the spaceflights, the first of which are planned for the end of 2013.
Edinburgh-based travel company Dream Escape has been appointed as Scotland’s sole accredited space agent, authorised to sell tickets for the flights.
It also arranges pre-spaceflight experiences in the US for aspiring astronauts unable to wait for the launch of Virgin Galactic flights. Zero-G flights allow passengers to experience weightlessness and G-force in a modified Boeing 727.
Virgin owner Sir Richard Branson announced that Hollywood star Ashton Kutcher had become the 500th commercial passenger to sign up.
Sir Richard said: “Virgin Galactic is the most exciting business that we’ve ever launched, and I still have to pinch myself that it’s for real.”